Goldfrapp – Supernature

Goldfrapp - Supernature (2005)

Goldfrapp – Supernature (2005)

Trying to keep up with Goldfrapp’s different attitudes and eras is a bit difficult sometimes. One day you are immersed in a futuristic rendition of the 1940s (Felt Mountain) and the next thing you know is that you somehow stumbled upon this mind blowing electronic and pop mixture that has awesome written all over it.

Chronologically speaking, this follows Black Cherry and to the casual listener it might not seem like a big change but there is a massive turn in direction here. From the glam rock inspired experiment that represented that album we now have a more pop driven electronic album that might seem like your everyday ordinary song collection, but before you know it will grow on you leaving the sensation that this music might be just enough to enable your mind to lift off.

Now that I think about it, maybe Let It Take You might not be just another song, it might be a big hint on this album’s true intentions, but instead of becoming a bizarre and abstract experience, Supernature never really departs from the general formula here. There are some moments though where I recognize some of the elements that a couple of years later would be the foundation for her next studio album, Seventh Tree.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why it is difficult to discern what is really going on during this album. If you happened to pay attention only to the easy and catchy electronic nature of the album you might have a hard time trying to figure out what the rest is about. I wouldn’t recommend trying to listen this to death until you finally “get it”, because in practice it works better if you let it get to you instead.

However what I like about this album is that you never get the feeling that Alison Goldfrapp is holding back something here. What you get here is the sensation that you’ve been given everything there is, and even you might feel that you’ve been given a little extra. And by being given everything I’m not just saying that my ears were blown away with electronic beats for an hour non-stop, I’m talking about the complete experience that Supernatural represents.

Just when you start thinking that Supernatural is just another British electronic pop album, it blows you away with its sudden change in direction, it transforms completely midway and it stops pretending to be the perfect ambient music for your fancy party, and it becomes a personal experience, a subtle and private reflective moment. The best part is that you never see it coming, and by the time you realize what is really happening it is already too late.

None of the above would be possible without something that has always been present in every Goldfrapp album to date, and that is the elegance and grandeur that is written all over it. I’ve always said that Goldfrapp is all about the glamour and the philosophy of doing music with a true artistic approach, and that is what I believe differentiates this from someone just being flamboyant. This is still electronic music, no matter how you look at it, but there’s something else that makes you believe that you’re really listening to something classy (because you actually are), something that belongs to another era, something that you won’t be afraid to admit in front of anyone, hell, I’m even writing about it to let everyone know that I like it! See what I did there?

I like to think that Felt Mountain is still my favorite Goldfrapp album, but I truly believe that Supernatural represents something different, and even though both albums are from the same artist, they are performed by different characters. For some reason I’m liking more this character lately though.

 

Fever Ray – Fever Ray

Fever Ray - Fever Ray (2009)

Fever Ray – Fever Ray (2009)

It is nearly impossible to describe Fever Ray in a single sentence. I’ve been puzzled about this album for a long time, and even now I’m not sure that I fully understand all about it. But bear with me, this is not your typical thick layered electronic album, what we have here is a gutsy Swedish lady doing something more primitive, almost basic in nature, spread through a journey that probably leaves more questions than answers.

It seems so distant from those collaborations with artists such as Röyksopp  or dEUS, or her own other project, The Knife. Fever Ray departs from the traditional electronic formula and attempts to give us a glimpse of an unknown world that previously existed only on Karin Dreijer Andersson’s mind. It is a cold, primitive and almost claustrophobic place to stay, but the funny thing is that even in an environment such as that there’s still beauty to be found.

I experienced this album’s steep learning curve first hand, because at least for me, it’s not an easy album to get into. It is radically different from the more traditional conventions we’ve been used to that it takes some time to let your mind get the hang of it. The only aspect that remains constant is the strangely beautiful voice that made us love Andersson in the first place, and Fever Ray is the right place to find her.

Looking back to those times when I tried unsuccessfully to make some sense of this album, I recon now that I failed many times because I was expecting to fully appreciate it with just repetitive listens, which never happened by the way. Some time later I thought about trying this again, but with a different attitude, this time trying to find textures, scenarios and looking for the complete adventure, and I’m certain that the results were complete different from the first time, I’m very pleased to say.

Sometimes I will get the feeling that I’m listening to something almost tribal in nature, something very basic that appeals to that primitive human being that is still somewhere inside of us, like I’m witnessing some sort of futuristic rendition of the rhythmic dancing ceremonies inside some cave in an apocalyptic future where humanity has again resorted to escape the civilization as we know it today. Don’t think for a second that this is the focus of this album though, it isn’t, those are just some random experiences I’ve come across while playing with this.

Some other times I found myself having what I can only describe as a sensation of loneliness. The album is very succinct and sometimes the feeling that you’re just listening a bare-bones, minimalist composition of the most surreal nature gets very strong to you. I’m sure some might even get a claustrophobic sensation during some passages, but I’m confident that the general tone of the album will compensate for those brief episodes.

I guess all I’m trying to say here is that maybe we’ve been fooled into thinking that there is just one right way to do electronic music. Fever Ray will be a challenge if you’re not used to Andersson’s eccentricity, but it has a reason to be, and it is because it is a different approach and she doesn’t cut corners while doing it.

Fever Ray is a very interesting album, and the reason you should give it a chance is not just because it is something different, but because I believe that sometimes music is just like math, there are always several ways of getting you to the answer… However, I’m still not sure if Fever Ray is the answer, or just the question to something bigger?

 

Fauxliage – Fauxliage

Fauxliage - Fauxliage (2007)

Fauxliage – Fauxliage (2007)

Truth to be told, I’ve never been a Sixpence None The Richer fan myself, but this cross experiment between Delirium members and Leigh Nash as the vocals behind Fauxliage deserves to be given a chance, and that’s what I did some years ago when I first came across one of their songs.

This has been sitting in my collection for about 4 years, and for the most part it has always been in the back of my mind, but for some bizarre reason every time that the winter is around the corner (winter runs from May to October in my country) this album is the kind of music you crave to listen in those cold, cloudy afternoons when you need something to warm you up. Not only this sounds very good under those conditions (at least that’s what works for me), it also pulls some really personal strings and evokes a reflexive and introspective look at yourself while you’re at it.

This mix of Canadian / American line-up bears more resemblance to Nash’s work with Sixpence None The Richer than with Delirium’s usually electronic driven material. However I believe that the essence of the latter is evident all over this, in a very subtle way though. The reflexive and calm nature of pretty much most of the songs is all there as an evidence of that, I believe.

Leigh Nash has the habit of taking a particular song and make it so easy to listen to it, grace it with that puzzling and yet accessible voice of hers and make it enjoyable for everyone in the process. However if you thought that this would never be something more than just a nice couple of songs with a known voice, let me tell you that there’s much more than just an easily recognizable voice waiting for you here.

Sometimes you find an album whose songs help you free your mind from the structure and limits imposed from more traditional and superfluous genres, and this one is one of those rare examples where it manages to do so driven by the lyrics and a beautiful voice to go with them. I can think of other albums that can evoke such experiences but most of them don’t feature vocals or are minimal at best, so it is good to have one that diverts from that but still can pull the same trick. There are a couple of instrumental tracks here and there though, and at least for me they weren’t the point of interest, I actually kinda missed Nash vocals during those…

I was misled to believe that this was a more electronic influenced album, and oriented towards the usually trip hop / electronic formula, but I have to say that this tastes a lot more pop than electronic, so the experience briefly reaches the elusive mellow-female-vocalist goodness but for the most part it stays in the more traditional and easy achievable pop sound, which is not a bad thing at all, in case you were wondering. That’s their formula and they are sticking to it, and as long as it works as good as it does here, I don’t care.

And after five years the chances of another Fauxliage album are very unlikely, which is unfortunate to say the least. Whether that happens or not, this side-project provided us with a couple of interesting moments by artists that otherwise belong to very different worlds. It’s not the best of both worlds, it is more like what happens when one enters the world of the other.

 

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die

Lana Del Rey - Born To Die (2012)

Lana Del Rey – Born To Die (2012)

I’m absolutely convinced that the first time I heard about this lady, I must have thought that this might be one of the oddest names I remember. Also the cover art seems like taken straight out of some late 60s  magazine or family portrait long forgotten in someone’s attic. But the truth is that the last thing in my mind was curiosity about how this album would actually sound, and if all of the reviews and talk about it are actually justified.

I was completely unaware of the incredible experience that was awaiting for me here. I was honestly just waiting to find some hipster girl pretending to be an artist using and indie image to sell some records and then fell into darkness and mystery after the dust settles down. Now I’m sure that this is just the first step in a very productive career that probably won’t reach heights of mega-stardom, but it certainly won’t go unnoticed and will have an avid number of listeners that will stay loyal for as long as she might feel like releasing more albums. Wishful thinking on my part, I know, but there are lots of potential here, you can tell right from minute one.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the exact reasons why this album sounds this amazing though, I’ve been puzzled over a few weeks trying to isolate the single element that makes this stand from the crowd. I failed so far to do so, and I’m starting to suspect that there isn’t a single element that can be blamed for making this album so enjoyable, it must be the result of several variables that are not yet clear in my mind, but they sure work great together.

I have to confess though, sometimes I have a hard time deciding how exactly this album should be categorized. Sometimes it feels just like your regular vanilla pop album that comes with a couple good songs, and some other times it jumps into a whole new category and it feels like the most amazing pop album you’ve heard in years. And that’s probably one of the few complains I have about Born To Die, consistency. It is a pretty darn good album, don’t get me wrong, but it doesn’t always feel the same, at least for me.

Another bizarre thing about this album is the fact that Del Rey is admittedly an Eminem fan, and one or two songs here sound almost like some of Eminem’s songs of a few years back. Those moments feel just a little bit out of place here, they don’t blend that easily with the rest of the album, and while it doesn’t really diminish the value of this album, it provides us with some confusion and maybe some blank stares in the middle of an otherwise interesting experience.

However, there’s one thing that will overpower any number of flaws you want to find in this album, and that is the theatrical, almost cinematic feeling that Del Rey’s voice communicates, that moment of awe when her voice rises and plays with the lyrics in a way I haven’t been able to identify in someone else. You can’t explain that, you just have to sit there and let it flow through your mind, and yes, maybe the lyrics are far from being mind blowing, but they do have something going on for them and you end up just being indulgent about it.

Is that reason enough to give this album the thumbs up? Yes, it definitely is. We can only hope that this will be explored in subsequent releases by Del Rey, as that is the reason many of us are here in the first place, and while this isn’t a perfect album, for being a debut album it scores surprisingly high in my book. I want more of that cinematic voice, I want more of that somewhat indifferent attitude while delivering warm performances that slip through songs that act just as vehicles for her voice.

Born To Die might not be the new pop revolution, but it certainly brings some fresh elements and is a very interesting proposal for those usually unwilling to listen to the typical pop stereotype. This is a pop album with an indie approach, not the other way around.

(The following video is not mine, as Youtube penalizes any account uploading videos belonging to Universal Music Group… Sorry about that guys, serves just to show that corporate music has its own agenda, and that ironically prevents people from actually listening their music.)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE6wxDqdOV0